Turning Our Hearts to the Faithful God
In times like these, people may question everything they thought was true. Our world is turned upside-down. Things we took for granted are no longer available, our daily routine is restricted, and the future is so uncertain we’re not even sure how worried we ought to be. When our world is this crazy, it can be tempting to question where God is in all of this.
We’re not the first generation to see our world changed abruptly. We can see an example in the Bible when Babylon conquered Judah and sent many of the people into captivity far from their homes. Sent to a foreign land, with only the poorest remaining in the land, the Israelites were separated from their personal possessions, the land God had promised them, and the Temple that was the center of their religious practice. Their world was not only disrupted, it appeared to be ended.
The Captivity led to much grief among the people, and that grief was expressed by poets and prophets. One entire book of the Old Testament is devoted to mourning over the fall of Jerusalem. Lamentations is a thoughtfully constructed poem of deep sorrow, probably written by the prophet Jeremiah. He had lived through the years leading up to Jerusalem’s collapse, his warnings ignored by the king and the majority of the leaders and the people. His heart broke over the fate of the city of God and His people, and he let his feelings flow in his book.
The center of the book of Lamentations, chapter 3, is a long acrostic poem in Hebrew. Each letter was used to begin the lines in three verses of our Bible. I want to look at three sections of this poem in light of our own situation and the sorrow we may be facing today.
א Aleph- Verses 1-3
I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
Can you relate to these verses? Jeremiah begins this section of his book with a heart cry over how he feels in his present circumstances. All of his theological knowledge and all of his prophetic experience have not prepared him for the destruction of his world. He feels like God is against him, driving him away from all that is good and light. The emotional weight of his situation is crushing him.
In our present world, many have suggested that COVID-19 is a judgment from God. Some perhaps see it as one the rest of the world deserves, but many wonder if this is personal. Is God really angry at me? Is everything falling apart around me because the Lord is against me? What we have learned in church, in Sunday school, in seminary fades away as the reality of our circumstances overwhelm us emotionally.
I don’t know why God has allowed this disease to run rampant in the world, but I do know we live in a sinful, fallen world, and natural disasters including diseases are part of the way the world works now. Viruses mutate, people are infected, and as a disease spreads rapidly many panic. I do believe that God can use even the worst disasters to draw attention to Jesus and to show us how much of what we value is transient and ultimately meaningless.
These verses lead to several stanzas continuing the lament, but Jeremiah’s lament is stopped when he recalls the character of the Lord. In verse 21 he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” What is it that Jeremiah remembers?
ח Heth- Verses 22-24
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
In all his distress and mourning, Jeremiah recalls the truth of the Lord’s “steadfast love.” The Hebrew word translated by this phrase is one that describes the covenant faithfulness of the Lord. Even when Israel was in distress, even when He had to judge His people, the Lord did not stop loving them. His covenant love and mercy continued through their struggles.
Not only did God continue to love His people, His mercies continued to be renewed. The people of God did not have to merely reminisce on how the Lord had been good to them in the past; they would continue to see new acts of mercy from Him every day. This was a reminder that the Lord is always faithful, with a faithfulness that is so great that it never runs out. Because God is great, His people can trust Him in all circumstances.
When we go through a shakeup in life, it separates what is important from what we can live without. People in our culture clamor for their “fair share” of what the world has to give. Jeremiah here prefers to have the Lord as his portion, his share. If we place our confidence in God, we can have hope in any circumstance. As we experience the turmoil of life, we remember that our God came to earth, and Jesus experienced many of the struggles and pains of human existence Himself. That is the God in whom we trust and who remains faithful and trustworthy.
This realization requires a response. If God is truly faithful, if His mercies are constantly renewed to us in love, then we must look at how we relate to Him.
נ Nun- Verses 40-42
Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
“We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven.”
Israel was exiled due to their disobedience to God and their unrepentant actions. The Lord was faithful and merciful, yet they rejected Him and pursued their own ways. Jeremiah tells them “Examine your ways! Return to the Lord!” Sin is an expression of rebellion against God. It is choosing to put self on the throne of our lives and to consider our own desires ahead of what God desires for us. The failure of Judah to repent of their sin and rebellion resulted in judgment as God waited for them to come to Him for forgiveness.
While we are faced with the quarantines and separation that has come in response to the pandemic, we have time to search ourselves. While we know that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been forgiven if we trust in Him, we may still wander into paths that diverge from His will. If we are willing to repent and confess our sins, the Lord will forgive them (1 John 1:9). Perhaps facing such a threat as COVID-19 gives us pause to stop, to think, and to draw closer to Jesus.
In Temple worship, people would lift their hands as a sign of submission to God. Jeremiah encourages them, and us, to lift not only our hands but our hearts to God. We worship the Lord as we hear Him speak through His Word, pray, and follow His leading for our life. In this crisis, it is important to recognize who God is, who we are, and how we relate to Him properly. It is a time for true worship “in spirit and in truth.”
Like Israel in Jeremiah’s time, we are facing an existential crisis that shakes us to our core. It is time that we stopped, examined ourselves, and found how we can best return to the Lord and serve Him. Lift your hands, lift your heart, and glorify Jesus Christ through all that you are facing, and trust in the never-failing faithfulness and mercy of our God.